Croatia chief fears for Prem players' fitness
Croatia made a great start to Euro 2008 but went out in the last eight to Turkey having sorely missed ex-Arsenal striker Eduardo after the striker suffered an horrific shin and ankle fracture in a Premier League match against Birmingham City.
Croatia fancy their chances of getting out of a Euro 2012 group containing holders Spain, Italy and Ireland this June but are eager for players such as Tottenham Hotspur's Luka Modric and Niko Kranjcar to stay fit as Spurs chase third place and FA Cup glory.
"Like other nations whose key players perform in Europe's top leagues, we are always wary of injuries," Croatia FA president Vlatko Markovic told Reuters in an interview.
"Those playing in the Premier League are especially vulnerable because sliding tackles are part of the football culture in England from the grassroots level and they increase the ever-present danger of fractures.
"We've had to deal with several heavy injuries to our players plying their trade in England down the years and it is imperative that everyone is fit at the end of the club season."
Although Croatia had a slightly easier group four years ago when they stormed into the last eight with wins over co-hosts Austria, Germany and Poland, Markovic was confident they could emulate, if not surpass, that success this time.
"World and European champions Spain are the odds-on favourites in the whole tournament and not just our group, but we can at least stand our ground against anyone else in Euro 2012," said Markovic, whose side will play their Group C matches in Poland rather than co-hosts Ukraine.
"We are quite capable of beating Ireland and there is no reason why we shouldn't keep our unbeaten record against Italy although both teams are very good and will certainly aim for the knockout stage of the competition.
"However, we have been in the top 10 of the world rankings in the past 15 years or so and that record says a lot about our quality and consistency."
The Croatians have three wins and two draws against the Italians in either friendly or competitive matches.
Their last competitive win against Italy was in the 2002 World Cup group stage and it was a bittersweet one as the Italians went on to reach the knockout stage while Croatia were eliminated after defeats by Mexico and Ecuador.
Attending a ceremony in Belgrade's suburb of Stara Pazova where the Serbian Football Association organised a reception for UEFA President Michel Platini, Markovic also predicted that both Croatia and Serbia would reach the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
The two nations, which emerged from the former Yugoslavia's bloody break-up, are in the same qualifying group, alongside Belgium, Scotland, Macedonia and Wales.
"Both teams are outstanding and without a doubt the top contenders in our qualifying group, with all due respect to their rivals," Markovic said.
"I am convinced Croatia and Serbia are capable of qualifying for the World Cup in Brazil because in my opinion they are the best two teams no